"My kayak for a coffee…"
(with apologies to William Shakespeare)
By Anne L. Desjardins
First let me say: my husband makes the best latte in the whole world. Even my French friend Jean-Luc, who is a topnotch chef trained in the French tradition, says so. In fact, I've become addicted to it. So have Jean-Luc, and his wife Linda. Over the last couple of years I've tried to fix myself the same high quality café au lait, using the same amount of coffee ground the exact same way, using the same brand of fair trade espresso coffee, using the same machine just as my partner does and frothing the milk as he taught me. But, for some reason, it doesn’t work at all! My latté remains bland: not strong enough. So I have dubbed my man the king of coffee at home and this royal title extends to the campground too.
No more instant coffee in camping
Thanks to him, gone are the days of my teenage years when we would endure cheap instant coffee because we didn't know any better! And, even before we got our nice little camping espresso coffee maker that always travels with us and makes our paddler's lives much easier and enjoyable, giving a good kick start to each morning, we would end up fixing ourselves decent coffee. There was a lot of trial and error and searching in stores and online camping stores, seeking out the best and easiest way to prepare our morning fix more or less the same way we make it at home. So while I was cleaning the tiny little kitchen in my extra tiny foldable camper-trailer the other day in preparation for the official paddling-camping season, I thought that probably I was not the only kayak or canoe aficionado who would do anything for a good cup of coffee the first thing each morning. So I decided I would share with you the result of my search for good camping coffee makers as well as a few easy recipes that use coffee.
The right tools for the right coffee
For most campers coffee made in percolators has long been the norm, and I bet it is some kind of an inheritance from our old cowboy days, when our ancestors were traveling west in endless caravans of wagon trains. Call me a coffee snob if you want, but this is a technique to throw out of the mesh screen of your tent for one simple reason: coffee that boils becomes spoiled with a strong metallic taste and is very bitter. It's just like making tea: coffee has to infuse gently, not cook!
There are two alternatives: filtered coffee using a plastic cone, doubled with a paper filter (or a permanent one), such as Melitta, (easy to use and affordable) or a French press. Both give good results, but the latter makes stronger coffee that is also extremely high in caffeine because the coffee sits for about five minutes before you separate the grains from hot water, allowing caffeine to fully develop. But the French press also makes a nice creamy coffee in no time, with no mess. It is even stronger than a tiny camping espresso machine, which is closer to a percolator coffee maker than from a real espresso machine. With these, coffee tends to turn bitter too because water needs to boil in order to be able to get to the coffee that is above it. Not the best tool, though, unless you really need latte at all cost. But excellent press coffee is, in my opinion, much better than bad espresso. For people who want a coffee that is a bit milder, the cone filter is the best technique and is also very easy to use too.
For the perfect cup of java
Just how much coffee makes the perfect cup of java? The amount has to be the same in all cases. I've seen many people double the quantity of ground coffee beans, expecting that their favorite morning beverage would turn stronger. Well, the fact is: it's going to become bitter, not stronger. For strong coffee, use black Arabica grains, not brown beans, and go for varieties with more personality, such Columbian or Sumatra. Your favorite coffee supplier will eagerly guide you in this choosing process. For each cup you make, use one spoonful of coffee, no more, no less (don't cheat!) and add one for the pot. Boil clean, fresh filtered water. When it comes to a boil, remove from heat and pour directly in the center of the plastic coffee filter for a Melitta-type coffee pot and fill it to almost the top, leaving a nice frothy collar to form. For a French press, simply put the coffee in the bottom, add boiling water, put the press on top and let sit for 5 to 7 minutes before pressing gently until you reach the coffee.
Spice up your mornings and your desserts!
If you want, you can then warm some UHT milk or evaporated milk to give some added personality to your coffee. You can also add some cocoa or cinnamon on top, if you want. For some variety, pour in your empty cup 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder (and sugar if you like your coffee a bit on the sweet side). Dissolve with cold water until it becomes a bid muddy, add hot strong coffee, finish it off with some frothy hot milk, and you’re in for a delicious moka! At night, why not add a few drops of almond essence, with your favorite spirits, such as Grand Marnier or Irish Whisky (or a mix), and serve this specialty coffee with fancy cookies for a real dessert treat? That's easy and somewhat spectacular because it’s so special.
For people who like a latte in the morning, just get a small espresso machine and a frother. Purists can even find manual coffee grinders designed for campers! But that may be pushing the envelope too much for a paddling trip, I guess... Don’t leave the frother at home, though; it really is worth the hassle. Just prepare the coffee in the little espresso coffee pot and remove from heat as soon as you hear the water climbing towards the coffee, than heat the milk, pour it in the frother, mix well and voilà! It won’t taste as great as my husband's café au lait, but it is certainly going to be a special treat too for a special paddling morning... And remember: when traveling, always put coffee in an airtight container; a tin can with a cover works wonders, but a plastic container is not your best friend since it tends to give a strong aftertaste to the coffee.
Cooking with coffee
Not only is coffee an essential morning beverage for most adults, but it is also fantastic for cooking: barbecue sauce, roastbeef sauce, baked beans with coffee, muffins, banana-coffee bread, molasses and coffee cookies, coffee and chocolate syrup for your ice cream are just a few examples of the versatility of this indispensable food staple. And coffee is good for your health too! Some antioxydant components present in coffee have shown promising results against colon and liver cancer and also against type-2 diabetes. Another recent study has shown that a regular consumption of coffee helps to fight cognitive decline. But too much of a good thing has always side effects, like possible hypertension, at least in people who drink cup after cup all day long.
Spicy coffee-banana bread
Preheat oven to 350° F.
- 1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 ripe mashed bananas
- 1/4 cup strong coffee
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 2 eggs
Grease and flour a rectangular loaf pan.
In a large bowl, sift all dry ingredients. In another mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric beater. Add eggs and bananas and continue to beat until soft and creamy. Finish preparation by mixing the egg mixture with milk and coffee.
Add dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir just enough with a wooden spoon to blend ingredients, as you would do for muffins.
Pour mixture into loaf pan and bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Coffee-chocolate-nuts molasses cookies
Preheat oven to 350° F.
- 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup dry cranberries
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, melt chocolate over very low heat, remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, stir in butter and sugar and mix together with an electric mixer until it forms a ribbon. Add eggs and vanilla extract and finish with melted chocolate.
In another large bowl, sift all dry ingredients together, except cranberries and pecans. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture by cupfuls, alternating each addition of flour with coffee, cranberries and pecans, until all coffee is added. Dough should be soft but not runny. Add more flour if needed to make soft dough that has the consistency of pizza dough. Use a small scoop to form 2-inch balls and place on baking sheets. Press slightly with a fork.
Bake for approximately 12 minutes, until cookies begin to brown slightly at the edges. Let cool on baking sheets a few minutes, then remove from sheets and finish cooling on a rack.